Social capital is predominantly seen as a public good. Internet communication tends to complement real-world interaction. Therefore, concerns that it might contribute to a decline of social capital seem unfounded. Internet communication can support and enhance communities that to some extent depend on face-to-face interaction. Taking the online communication of computer professionals as a model, the paper seeks to demonstrate the power of virtual communities. Examples are the development of Linux and users reactions to a bug in the Pentium processor. Online communication, facilitated by personal home pages and search engines, offers isolated workers opportunities for increasing their private good social capital as well. On the level of infrastructure, key characteristics of the Internet match those of social capital: the network aspect itself, cooperation, voluntary work, giving, standards of social behavior and the fact it is not designed. Downsides of the Internet also correspond to downsides of social capital: exclusion, a trade-off between openness and trust and support for destructive forces. Realizing the equalizing potential of the Internet in terms of social capital requires action; there is also a possible scenario in which social capital is undermined.

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Social Science Computer Review
Department of Sociology

Pruijt, H. (2002). Social Capital and the Equalizing Potential of the Internet. Social Science Computer Review, 1–13. Retrieved from